Easter 2 A - Divine Mercy - Thomas



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Starters: From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection:  

1: Divine Mercy in action: 

 A TIME magazine issue in 1984 presented a startling cover. It pictured a prison cell where two men sat on metal folding chairs. The young man wore a black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man was dressed in a white robe and had a white skullcap on his head. They sat facing one another,  up-close and personal. They spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing the conversation. The young man was Mehmet Ali Agca, the pope’s would-be assassin (he shot and wounded the Pope on May 13, 1981); the other man was Pope John Paul II, the intended victim. The Pope held the hand that had held the gun whose bullet tore into the Pope’s body. This was a living icon of mercy. John Paul’s forgiveness was deeply Christian. His deed with Ali Agca spoke a thousand words. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, Ali Agca raised the Pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali Agca’s hand tenderly. When the Pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” This is an example of God’s Divine Mercy, the same Divine Mercy whose message St. Faustina witnessed.  
2.      "Well, then, I will have mercy."  

Emperor Napoleon was moved by a mother's plea for pardon for her soldier son. However, the emperor said that since it was the man’s second major offense, justice demanded death. "I do not ask for justice," implored the mother, "I plead for mercy." "But," said the emperor, "he does not deserve mercy." "Sir," cried the mother, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." The compassion and clarity of the mother's logic prompted Napoleon to respond, "Well, then, I will have mercy." (Luis Palau, Experiencing God's Forgiveness, Multnomah Press, 1984.) 

The Second Sunday of the Easter season invites us to reflect on God’s infinite love and mercy for His people, as detailed in the Bible and as lived and taught by Jesus, and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  

3.     St. Faustina and the Image of the Divine Mercy:  

St. Faustina of Poland is the well known apostle of Divine Mercy. On the 30th of April, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, at 10:00 a.m., His Holiness Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister FAUSTINA. The new Saint invites us by the witness of her life to keep our faith and hope fixed on God, the Father, rich in mercy, who saved us by the precious blood of His Son. During her short life, the Lord Jesus assigned St. Faustina three basic tasks: 1. to pray for souls, entrusting them to God's incomprehensible Mercy; 2. to tell the world about God's Generous Mercy; 3. to start a new movement in the Church focusing on God's Mercy. At the canonization of Sr. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks and never ceases to speak of God the Father, who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man.... 

Believing in this love means believing in mercy." “The Lord of Divine Mercy” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with his left hand on his chest from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white. The picture contains the message "Jesus, I trust in You!" (Jezu ufam Tobie). The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the water which justifies souls. The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God. 

4.      Mayor’s mercy:   

One night in 1935, Fiorello H. La Guardia, mayor of New York, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren. La Guardia said, "I've got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail."  

As he spoke, he threw $10 into his hat. He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city "where an old woman had to steal bread so that her grandchildren should not starve." The hat was passed around, and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50.   

5.     Traffic cop’s mercy:  

A priest was forced, by a traffic police, to pull over for speeding. As the cop was about to write the ticket, the priest said to him, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." The cop handed the priest the ticket, and said, "Go, and sin no more." 

6.     Photographer’s mercy:

The story is told of a politician who, after receiving the proofs of a picture, was very angry with the photographer. He stormed back to the man's studio and screamed at him: "This picture does not do me justice!" The photographer replied, "Sir, with a face like yours, what you need is mercy, not justice!"

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration


Characteristic of the people who rejoice in the Lord’s victory over death is that they gather regularly for ‘the breaking of the bread’. In this action we recognise the presence of the risen Christ and are invited to see that as we share a single loaf and cup, so we share in his new life. This new life has the promise of overcoming division, sin, and death: but are we really prepared to share with those around us? And if we are willing to accept forgiveness from the risen Lord, are we also ready to offer forgiveness?

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Michel de Verteuil
General comments


Today’s gospel reading, like all of St John’s gospel, is an interweaving of several themes. It is not possible to follow up all the themes together; we must focus on one at a time, going deeply into it and allowing it to reveal some deep truth about Jesus, about ourselves and about life. 

In this reflection I invite you to focus on the apostle Thomas; this is in accord with the Church’s liturgical tradition for the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore, although the reading includes two of Jesus’ resurrection appearances – both of them deeply moving – we stay with the second, the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas, and let the earlier appearance provide the context. We are free to identify either with Thomas or with Jesus, but not with both at the same time. We need to be clear on how we understand Thomas. The popular interpretation puts him in a bad light, as “doubting Thomas”. This, however, is not the movement of the text which culminates in Thomas’ admirable act of faith, the most explicit in the New Testament – “My Lord and my God”. We are more in accord with the spirit of the text, therefore, when we look at Thomas as a model of faith. He was right to insist that before he could believe in Jesus’ resurrection, he must see the holes the nails made in his hands, put his finger into the holes and his hand into the great wound made by the centurion’s lance. 

Thomas then teaches us the important lesson that we must not separate the resurrection from the cross, since we are called to be followers of Jesus. He also teaches us the truth of the Church and of our individual spiritual growth. We cannot live the life of grace, the “risen life”, authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. This means being conscious that we develop the capacity to love and to be loved only by dying to ourselves. Our wounds are also a constant reminder of our frailty and that it is God’s grace that raises us up to new life. 

St Paul’s epistles show that the first Christians needed the corrective of Thomas’ faith. They tended to relate with the risen Jesus without reference to his crucifixion. They forgot that they were called to be “followers of Jesus crucified,” choosing to die with him so that they could rise with him (see especially 1 Corinthians 1). 

We Christians fall into the same error today when our lives and our teachings proclaim an abstract “disembodied” Jesus, dispenser of graces and teacher of morality; we forget the historical person who was put to death for proclaiming the kingdom of God. 

Thomas professes the true faith of the church. We too must insist that the Jesus we follow is the true Jesus, the one whose risen body bears the wounds of Calvary. 

Jesus is the model leader and spiritual guide. He is pleased to give Thomas the assurance he is looking for, and then challenges him to look forward to the day when he will believe without seeing – always in the Jesus who passes through death to resurrection. 

The blessedness of believing without seeing came from the experience of the early church. Jesus is not moralizing but inviting Thomas (and us) to celebrate great people of faith – in our communities and worldwide – who take up their cross with confidence in the resurrection. 

As always in our meditation we must not limit ourselves to personal relationships. We celebrate the resurrection faith lived by communities, nations and cultures.  

Scripture prayer 

       “You who remain ever faithful even when we are unfaithful, forgive our sins
       and grant that we may bear true witness to you before all men and women.”
       Pope John Paul II, Service of Forgiveness, March 2000
      
       Lord, we thank you for the moments of grace of this Lenten season
       when, as individuals and as a church community,
       we walked in the footsteps of Jesus by passing from death to new    life.
       We thank you in particular for the great day
       when our Church publicly asked forgiveness from other religions and cultures.
       We thank you for Pope John Paul who, like Jesus with St Thomas,
       invited us to see the holes that the nails of arrogance and self-righteousness
       made into the body of Christ, and to put our fingers into the holes,
       to put our hands into the huge wound which the lust for power made in his side,
       so that we would recognize how, just as you raised Jesus from the dead,
       you do not allow his Body, the Church, to remain in the tomb,
       but always raise her up to new life.

       Lord, we thank you for the times when reconciliation emerged triumphantly
       from the tomb of conflict:
       – the spirit of dialogue between our Church and Jews, Muslims,
       Hindus and African traditional religions;
       – the European Union created by former enemies;
       – the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland;
       – the peace process in the Middle East.
       Do not let us forget the terrible legacy of hatred and resentment
       which had to be overcome;
       invite us to put our fingers into the holes made by the nails,
       our hands into the great wound made by lances,
       so that we can recognize with awe and wonder
       the spark of your divine life that is within us all.
       Remind us too of those who worked for peace during the long years of conflict
       when they seemed to be working in vain.
       How blessed were they who did not see
       and yet continued to believe in your power to bring new life into the world.

        “Whoever sees anything of God, sees nothing of God.“     Meister Eckhart
           Lord, lead us to the blessedness of not seeing and believing. 

         “Go for broke, always try to  do too much, dispense with safety nets, aim for the stars.”     

 Salman Rushdie
      
        Lord, we thank you for friends, leaders and spiritual guides
       who challenge us as Jesus challenged Thomas.
       When we commit ourselves to a cause because we have tested its reality,
       they invite us to experience the blessedness of believing without seeing.
 

       “Beware of the seduction of leaving the poor to think about them.”    Jean Vanier
      
        Lord, forgive us that we want to help those in need without sharing their pain;
       we look for their resurrection but do not want to see their wounds:
       – young people have been deeply hurt and we serve them with pious exhortations;
       – we become impatient with those who continue to mourn the death of a spouse or a child;
       – we think we can restore a broken relationship by merely saying we are sorry;
       – we propose reconciliation between warring factions without acknowledging past wrongs;
       – we pray for peace in the world and do not agonize over its terrible injustices.
       We thank you for people like Thomas who will not let us away with easy solutions;
       they insist that we must see the holes nails have made in the hands of victims,
       put our fingers into the holes and our hands into wounds lances have made in their sides,
       and only then believe that they have within them the capacity to rise to new life.

        “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being,
        the exact nature of our wrongs.” Step 5 of the Twelve Step Method of Alcoholics Anonymous 
       Lord, when we are converted from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, power, or sex
       we are so anxious to make a new start
       that we forget the hurt which was at the root of our problem,
       – the loneliness of our childhood,
       – the sense of racial inferiority,
       – our disability,
       – the fear of failure.
       We thank you for sending us friends who insist
       that we must face the reality of the past.
       We pray that like Jesus welcoming Thomas,
       we will invite them to put their fingers into the holes the nails have made
       and their hands into our sides,
       so that they can walk with us in our new life. 
 

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Homily notes

1. There is a theme running through all the readings today which captures a key sense of the whole liturgy – that we as Christians live in ‘in-between’ times. On the one hand, we cry out that ‘Christ is truly risen, Alleluia’ (the great Easter slogan) and death has been put to flight; but on the other hand, we know we must walk by faith for around us there is no shortage of greed, death and destruction. Here is the great tension of discipleship: we must believe that Christ has conquered (or else Christian faith is meaningless) and we must work to bring it about. In short, we live and act in hope. Down the centuries many have tried to resolve this tension in favour of either believing or working (this is the ‘Pelagius v Augustine’ debate that has polarised so much western theology) rather than seeing in this tension the very structure of human life: we must grow to become what we most truly are. In Easter terms, we know that Christ has conquered and so life does not end in death, but this new life must be established both in our hearts (through having a new imagination whereby we view the world in terms of what it can become through love, generosity and forgiveness), and in the world through our Christian action. 

2. We see this tension of what-God-has-established: and what is yet-to-come brought out clearly in 1Pet. The Christians rejoice in their new birth as sons and daughters of God, but they cannot escape the difficulties and demands of life. The author sought to explain this tension by carrying forward the metaphor of being children of the Father. Whoever is a child of the Father is an heir to the kingdom, but as a human inheritance (i.e. that which belongs to the children) requires waiting, so this divine inheritance is not being given to us yet but being held for us in heaven. But why does God require us to wait? This time of waiting through difficulties is explained as God wishing us to undergo a time of testing and purification.  

Pope Francis invites us to take up Jesus’ challenge 

While we may not find this explanation convincing, nor like the implications of imagining God using our lives as a trailing-ground – for that invites the impious concretization of the metaphor in presenting God testing some of his children to destruction – we must confront the same basic question to our believing that that author faced: we believe Christ has conquered, yet we experience death and pain as all too real around us. If we do nothing else in the homily today than acknowledge this basic dilemma of faith, we will have done much.

3. It is all too easy to pretend that the dilemma does not exist or, at least, would not bother us if we were ‘proper’ believers. One of the common surrogates for Christian faith is present­ing Christianity as giving some immediate reward: a happier or more contented life, material benefits, or some notion of having a ‘God on your side’ – this is the sales-pitch of the televangelists. Equally, many wonder why ‘bad things happen to good people’ – the nagging doubt about the ‘value’ of faith when it ‘seems to make no difference’ whether one is a believer or not. Both positions ignore the basic Christian dynamic: Christ promises us the kingdom, but does so while challenging his followers to build it in their lives and world. The kingdom is not a child’s wonderland were we are simply lodged by an indulgent parent, but the completion of our human work that must engage our wills, our skills, and our hearts. Thus our faith involves (1) waiting (hope) and (2) the confrontation of the selfishness that creates suffering in our world other-focused love (agape/caritas). While we may not want to see these sufferings in terms of a divine testing as does 1 Pet, we must recognize when we shout ‘Christ is risen’, we do so with the sober realization that suffering is part of the human condition and that belief requires challenging every attitude and action that contributes to that suffering. Fortitude and courage are Christian virtues.  

4. There is another matter we should note today. This liturgy takes place on ‘the octave day’ of Easter and, historically, this day was seen as completing the’ great day of resurrection’ that has lasted since the Easter Vigil. Such a notion of a ‘ great day’ is beyond the imagination of most people in our society. For almost everyone this is just another weekend and the ‘long weekend’ of Easter already seems long past. So there is a dissonance between the liturgy, and perhaps its president declaring how special today is, and the average person’s emotions. There is no simple answer to this phenomenon: the twentieth century saw the secularisation of time into just two categories of ‘work [time]‘ and ‘time-off’ where material production was the measure of human life. In the process, the religious notion of stressed (high days) and unstressed time (ordinary time) disappeared, and with it the notion that human activity fits into a greater harmonious pattern seen in such regularities as the tides and the seasons. However, this crisis of sacred time is not helped when the actual liturgy in a parish has a single tone from Sunday to Sunday and that es­sential of sacred time, differences between day and day, is not felt by those celebrating. Today the liturgy expects us to continue the tone of Easter Sunday in such a way that the feel of this day is notably more special than that of the Sundays that will follow. This presents each community with the need to think about how they celebrate, and how they can mark this time as special. 

5. One way of marking the central quality of Easter Day and this Sunday is to pick up the theme from Acts 2 where Luke sees the weekly gathering for the Eucharist as what is charac­teristically Christian. The symbolism that underlies Luke’s Eucharistic theology is not that of bread and wine as specific food-materials, but that the baptised participants are united in Christ through each having as their food what is a portion in a single loaf and a single cup: hence his term ‘the breaking of the loaf’. However, this aspect of Eucharistic symbolism is lost in our practice where we have individual mini-loaves (a round particle indicates a whole unit and is the very opposite of something broken for sharing), and either many cups (symbolic impoverishment) or, even worse, where the cup is not shared by the president with the other participants (sym­bolic famine). Making this breaking and eating shares of a single loaf, and drinking from a common cup, the central practical part of the celebration, with all its difficulties, delays, and need for explanation, will mark out this day as no amount of words or banners or peripheral decorations can.

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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
 

When we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, we are assured that our sins are forgiven and that we will have God’s help to avoid sin in the future.

What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. There are seven such sacraments in the Catholic Church. However, the seven sacraments are not simply signs like other signs in our lives. Unlike other signs and symbols, the sacraments are signs or symbols that bring about in our lives what they signify.
 

For example, although we might say that a washing machine is a symbol of cleanliness, we know that it is much more than that because it actually does what it symbolises: it cleans. In the same way a sacrament signifies an actual meeting — a personal encounter — with the risen Lord Jesus. Thus the sacrament of reconciliation is not just a sign or symbol of God’s forgiveness. Through it, we are truly absolved from our sins. The sacrament does what it signifies.  

Pope Francis goes to Confession. 

In celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, what, we may ask, is the inward grace being celebrated? It is the process of the inner change that is happening because of conversion away from the darkness of sin towards the radiant light of Christ. But this inner change is not outwardly recognisable, precisely because it is interior to the penitent’s life. Therefore, there needs to be some outward sign that, in some way, manifests the inner change that is occurring. 

For the sacrament to be celebrated properly, the penitent first confesses his / her sins. The naming of the sins in the presence of the priest indicates that the penitent is accepting personal responsibility for them.
Secondly, the penitent expresses genuine sorrow for the sins by praying the act of contrition. Again, the vocalising of this prayer is a sign of the penitent’s sorrow and desire for conversion.
Thirdly, and crucially, the priest speaks the words of absolution that, because of the grace of ordination, mediate God’s forgiveness. As the penitent listens to the words of absolution and sees the priest make the sign of the cross, the penitent realises that his! her sins are forgiven.
 

Fourthly, and finally, the penitent performs the penance given by the priest. The penance is another outward sign of the inward grace. The penance in itself does not undo the harm caused by the sins but is simply a gesture on the penitent’s part that the process of interior conversion is progressing. Nonetheless, the penance is an important activity that demonstrates outwardly what is happening inwardly in the penitent’s life.  

The sheer joy of forgiveness and burdens lifted  

We all need to experience reconciliation in our lives. The sacrament of reconciliation enables us to experience God’s forgiveness for our sins. Through the outward signs of confessing sins, praying the act of contrition, receiving absolution and doing the penance, we demonstrate our interior conversion and we complete the process of sacramental reconciliation. 

Fr. John Conley, sj 

Christian Peace and the New Skepticism 

Purpose: The peace announced by Christ in his Resurrection appearances is not the peace of the world: a simple absence of conflict.  It is peace rooted in faith in Christ, especially his triumph over death, and a peace rooted in the forgiveness of sin by Christ through his Church.  

In the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms, one forgotten gesture was revived.  It was the kiss of peace.  Before receiving Communion, members of the assembly turn to each other and wish each other the peace of Christ.  The Eucharist, faith, and Christian fellowship are somehow tied to peace.  In many churches, a large book is prominently set aside so that parishioners and visitors may write down their prayer petitions.  Many of the petitions concern personal problems: illness, financial issues, family disputes, the sadness over a child who has abandoned the practice of the faith.  But one social petition is written down, again and again: the desire for peace in the world. 

The desire for peace is omnipresent.  When Christ stands in the midst of the apostles in the Resurrection appearances detailed in St. John’s Gospel today, he also focuses on peace.  His repeated salutation is “Peace be with you!”  But the peace Christ proclaims and offers is quite different from the peace of the world.  It is a peace rooted in forgiveness from sin, and in faith in himself. 

First, Christ stresses that he brings the peace that forgives sin, and that reconciles the alienated with God the Father.  He goes further.  He makes the apostles the ministers of this ministry of reconciliation.  “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”  The sacrament of reconciliation, and the distinctive mission of the apostles, and their successors, as ministers of that sacrament have been inaugurated.  One of the great marks of Christian peace will be the experience of the forgiveness of one’s sins, through the mediation of the Church.  And one of the great tasks of the Christian life will be to share that mercy with others, through heartfelt forgiveness of those who have transgressed against us. 

Second, in his encounter with the doubting St. Thomas, Christ emphasizes that peace is tied to faith in Christ himself, especially the truth concerning his Resurrection.  The recognition that Christ is truly “my Lord and my God” grants us a peace which no therapeutic technique, and no social reform, can grant.  It is the peace that flows from knowing that Christ has overcome every force of oppression—including death itself—which we face in our stormy individual and ecclesial pilgrimage.  It is this daring hope which permits us to place our failure and sufferings in hopeful context, because Jesus, truly risen from the dead, has the last say in our lives, and in the history of our tormented world. 

This Octave of Easter, with this figure of the doubting Thomas, could be an excellent occasion to challenge the new spirit of skepticism gripping American culture.  All of us have on-the-ground experience of the rise of the “Nones”—the army of young adults who belong to no religious denomination, and have no particular religious convictions.  Few of our parishioners may have read “The New Atheists,” but they are well aware of the arguments through a hundred television programs.  They are bombarded by thousands of bloggers and columnists who claim that, in a new battle between science and religion, religious believers come off as the fool.  A homily at the Eucharist provides little time to do more than raise the subject.  A good adult-ed program could address these issues in greater detail.  But, if we are to pass on the peace of Christ, we are summoned to point to the truth of God’s existence, of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of the divine founding of the Church as a place of sacramental reconciliation.  Any new evangelization clearly requires that we respond to the arguments supporting this new skepticism. 

2. The Connections: 

THE WORD: 

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (for all three years of the Lectionary cycle) is Act 2 of John’s Easter drama.   
Scene 1 takes place on Easter night.  The terrified disciples are huddled together, realizing that they are marked men because of their association with the criminal Jesus.  The Risen Jesus appears in their midst with his greeting of “peace.”  John clearly has the Genesis story in mind when the evangelist describes Jesus as “breathing” the Holy Spirit on his disciples:  Just as God created man and woman by breathing life into them (Genesis 2: 7), the Risen Christ re-creates humankind by breathing the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the eleven.
 

In scene 2, the disciples excitedly tell the just-returned Thomas of what they had seen.  Thomas responds to the news with understandable skepticism.  Thomas had expected the cross (see John 11: 16 and 14: 5) -- and no more. 

The climactic third scene takes place one week later, with Jesus’ second appearance to the assembled community -- this time with Thomas present.  He invites Thomas to examine his wounds and to “believe.”  Christ’s blessing in response to Thomas’ profession of faith exalts the faith of every Christian of every age who “believes without seeing”; all Christians who embrace the Spirit of the Risen One possess a faith that is in no way different less than that of the first disciples.  The power of the Resurrection transcends time and place.  

HOMILY POINTS: 

We trace our roots as parish and faith communities to Easter night when Jesus “breathed” his spirit of peace and reconciliation upon his frightened disciples, transforming them into the new Church. 

The “peace” that Christ gives his new Church is not a passive sense of good feeling or the mere absence of conflict.  Christ’s peace is hard work: the peace of the Easter Christ is to honor one another as children of the same Father in heaven; the peace of the Easter Christ seeks to build bridges and find solutions rather than assigning blame or extracting punishment; the peace of Christ is centered in relationships that are just, ethical and moral.   

The “peace” that the Risen Christ breathes into us at Easter shows us a way out of those tombs in which we bury ourselves; the forgiveness he extends enables us to get beyond the facades we create and the rationalizations we devise to justify them.   

Jesus’ entrusting to the disciples the work of forgiveness is what it means to be the church: to accept one another, to affirm one another, to support one another as God has done for us in the Risen Christ.  What brought the apostles and first Christians together as a community -- unity of heart, missionary witness, prayer, reconciliation and healing -- no less powerfully binds us to one another as the Church of today. 

All of us, at one time or another, experience the doubt and scepticism of Thomas:  While we have heard the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb, all of our fears, problems and sorrows prevent us from realizing it in our own lives.  In raising his beloved Son from the dead, God also raises our spirits to the realization of the totality and limitlessness of his love for us.   

We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain long after our own experiences of resurrection.  Our “nail marks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God we experience from others and that we extend them.    

Nail marks 

It has happened to all of us.  We discover that we are better people than we think we are.  The parish puts out a call for volunteers.  There aren’t enough hours in the day as it is — and you can’t imagine yourself contributing anything meaningful to help the elderly, the homeless, the poor, or kids — especially (God help us!) teenagers.  But once you begin, you find a real joy working with these folks.  You look forward to these couple of hours.  You realize that you have been changed as much as those you have touched. 

Or you walk into the cafeteria and the only place left is next to her.  She’s nice enough but painfully shy — she barely says hello to anyone.  You sit down and say Hi.  You’re taken back by the welcome and graciousness in her quiet Hello.  The ice is broken; a friendship begins — all because you were willing to risk a simple Hello. 

Or a beloved family member or friend is critically ill.  You feel helpless.  You’d like to go and be with them — but you’re afraid you may say the wrong thing; you fear that in your clumsiness and awkwardness you may do more harm than good.  But it becomes clear in just a few minutes that your presence alone has brought much joy to the dying, that your simple taking of their hand reassures them that are loved and cared for.  

In today’s Gospel, the Risen Christ invites the doubting Thomas to place his fingers “in the nail marks” and “in my side” and believe — believe in the love of God to transform us and in the grace to be agents of that love for others.  The “nail marks” of Jesus are all around us in the lives of those walking their own Calvarys.  Jesus calls us to be willing to place ourselves in the pain and struggle of others and bring the joy and peace of Easter into hearts entombed in winter cold and darkness.   

3. Homily from Father James Gilhooley   

 The Emperor Caesar Augustus gave a citizen a magnificent jewel. The man said, "This is too much for me to accept. Caesar said, "Perhaps, but it is not too much for me to give."   

 Last Sunday, the Lord signaled the apostles that though they had deserted Him on Good Friday, He forgave them. Today He faxes Thomas the message He forgives him for his disbelief in the Resurrection despite reliable eyewitnesses. Put these points in your mental computer. They are important for all of us.   

 Jesus' followers continued to meet after Easter in the Upper Room of Last Supper fame. Since it was owned by a friend, the price was right. And good thing too. The apostles were broke. Weekly church envelopes and second collections had not yet been invented.   

 Check it out that John is anxious for us to know that it was the first day of the week. If you play Sherlock Holmes, you will discover that "the first day of the week" is mentioned in the New Testament a remarkable seven times. These Christ followers wanted us to understand that Sunday had already become the Lord's Day. So, our gathering at Sunday Liturgy as a Jesus community is no accident. We have taken our cue from the apostles.   

 The disciples were sitting about relaxing and exchanging gossip.   

 Perhaps they had finished celebrating the Eucharist. Their Easter dinner would be bargain Chinese take-out. Suddenly the resurrected Lord bursts into their company. Surely several of them fell off their chairs. One or two others must have clutched their hearts and put a Nitro pill under their tongue.   

 His "Peace be with you!" had much more punch than our limp "Have a nice day." A free translation would mean, "May God give you every wonderful good!" When you consider Jesus is divine, the apostles had to feel good all over immediately.   

Thomas alone had expected the assassination of Jesus from day one. Recall the time the Christ proposed leaving His mountain hideout and going to a town where the cops were looking for Him. Eleven of the apostles ran scared and asked politely for a raincheck. Thomas alone shamed them all for being yellow by saying, "Let us all go that we may die with Him." Thomas was courageous, but he was a pessimist. The bottom line was doom and gloom.  

 His faith told him it would be better to die with Jesus than live without Him. His unbelief told him that once Christ died, He would remain a rotting corpse like Thomas himself.   

Belief and doubt have the nasty habit of co-existing uncomfortably in our selves. If that be your secret problem, lighten up. Thomas is your main man.  

When Jesus appeared Easter Sunday, Thomas was absent. Perhaps he was out looking for a job or applying for unemployment insurance or getting drunk. When his fellow apostles reported they had seen the risen Lord, he assumed they were smoking funny cigarettes or drinking cheap red wine or both.   

Thomas did not say he could not believe but rather that he was not able to believe without physical proof. Sorry, but you were not the first to say, "I believe only what I see."   

Thomas made one serious mistake. He missed the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. Learn from him and never miss any Sunday Liturgy.  

Jesus oftentimes sends an e-mail just for you at these occasions.   

Thomas of record was the last person on the block to believe in the Resurrection. But run up all the flags, for he was the first to profess absolute belief in the divinity of the risen Saviour. The cry "My Lord and my God" that came out of his gut still shouts out. It is the most celebrated two second sound bite in history and a wonderful prayer to boot.   

Thomas began that second Easter Sunday by touching Jesus as friend. But, when he pulled back his hand from the wet wounds, he realized he was in touch with God Himself. Thomas was blown away by the experience. He would never be the same again.   

We owe Thomas big time. His doubt is a further proof to us that the risen Christ is as physical as we are right now.  

All of God's closest friends - Moses, David, Abraham, Job, Thomas, etc - had doubts. They voiced them publicly. Expressing doubts is often the next level of intimacy with God. (Rick Warren)   

 Easter Sunday the Master forgave the apostles for running out on Him Good Friday. Today He absolves Thomas for his disbelief. He gave them all a second chance. Do you believe the resurrected Jesus will not also give you a second chance?   

 Forgiveness for your sins through confession may be too much for you to receive, but it is not too much for Christ to give.  

ILLUSTRATIONS:  

1.     Andrew Greeley:  

Story:
Once upon a time there was a man who counted carefully all his grudges. He remembered all the cruelties of the school yard, the taunts from his class when he did something well, the feather-brained irresponsibilities  (as he saw them) of the young women he had dated, the dishonesty of his business associates, the insensitivity of his wife, the ingratitude of his children. So many people had done such terrible things to him that he figured that there had to be a conspiracy. Who could have organized such a massive conspiracy?

Only God:
 

For some reason, maybe it was his face, God did not like him. This was unfair, but what could he do. If God had a grudge against him, that was God’s privilege. But then he had the right to hold a grudge against God. So he died lonely and isolated, hated (he thought) by everyone who ought to have loved him. I have a grudge against You, he told God on first meeting. So what, God replied. I don’t have a grudge against you, so forget about it!  

Then God showed him the people at his funeral Mass. All the people who had injured him were sobbing in church. Do you think maybe you missed the point, God asked.

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MERCY

Years after the death of President Calvin Coolidge, this story came to light. In the early days of his presidency, Coolidge awoke one morning in his hotel room to find a cat burglar going through his pockets. Coolidge spoke up, asking the burglar not to take his watch chain because it contained an engraved charm he wanted to keep. Coolidge then engaged the thief in quiet conversation and discovered he was a college student who had no money to pay his hotel bill or buy a ticket back to campus. Coolidge counted $32 out of his wallet -- which he had also persuaded the dazed young man to give back! -- declared it to be a loan, and advised the young man to leave the way he had come so as to avoid the Secret Service! (Yes, the loan was paid back.)   

Today in the Word, October 8, 1992.  




A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. 

"But I don't ask for justice," the mother explained. "I plead for mercy." 

"But your son does not deserve mercy," Napoleon replied. 
"Sir," the woman cried, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." 
"Well, then," the emperor said, "I will have mercy." And he spared the woman's son. 

Luis Palau, Experiencing God's Forgiveness, Multnomah Press, 1984.   

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If I were to mention the names of certain disciples to you and ask you to write down the first word that comes into your mind, it is unlikely you would come up with the same words. If I were to mention the name of Judas many of you would write down the word "betray" but not all of you. If I were to mention Simon Peter, some of you would write down the word "faith," but not all of you. If I were to mention the names of James and John, some of you would write down the phrase "Sons of Thunder," but not all of you. But when I mention the word Thomas, there is little question about the word most everyone would write down. It would be the word doubt. Indeed, so closely have we associated Thomas with this word, that we have coined a phrase to describe him: "Doubting Thomas."

You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about Thomas. It is in John's Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him. There is not a lot about this disciple in the Bible but there is more than one description. 

When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them. Surprisingly, it was Thomas who said: Then let us go so that we may die with him. It was a courageous statement, yet we don't remember him for that. We also fail to point out that in this story of Thomas' doubt we have the one place in the all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth shattering confession of faith? Look at his confession, "My Lord, and my God." Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just as 2 + 2 = 4, and the sun is in the sky. You are my Lord and my God! These are certainly not the words of a doubter.

Unfortunately history has remembered him for this scene where the resurrected Christ made an appearance to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem...
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The British writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three "laws" of prediction that are known as "Clarke's Three Laws." Here they are: 

Law 1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.  

Law 2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.  

Law 3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.    

Taking Clarke even further, some historians of science have argued that the roots of science in the mists of time lie in magic, that science began as magic. According to these scholars the astrologers and magicians parted company: those who sided with the astrologers accepted fate and the destiny of the stars; those who cast lots with the magicians looked for ways to change our future and manipulate the world.   

For people of my generation, we are living in a magic renaissance. Science and technology are awash in magic with things like 3-D printers, which are now printing human organs and 3500 square foot homes in 24 hours. Have you seen how they work? That's magic. Then there are Google glasses and Amazon drones. That's magic.   

But some of the biggest magic around is voice recognition. As a young Samuel was instructed to speak by his mentor Eli, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Our technology now is saying to us, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears and obeys." We "speak," and our toys turn on and do our bidding. Your voice is enough to get the GPS systems in your car to be your digital concierge and report back to you with a voice of our choosing. X-Box One recognizes who is speaking to it and obeys the voice of its "master" instantly. It's all magic. But to our kids, it's not magic, it's normality.     

But Voice Recognition didn't begin as magic, or as science. It began with Jesus....
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 We Know Where We Are Going 

The story is told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers' tickets, Einstein couldn't find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; "Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I'm sure you bought a ticket."  

As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. You don't need a ticket, I'm sure you bought one." Einstein arose and said "Young man, I too know who I am; what I don't know is where I am going." 

And that is the good news of Easter; that we know where we are going. We have been told by the Savior that his life and death has promised us life eternal. And Low Sundays don't change that promise. And unemployment doesn't change that promise. Neither does divorce, or bankruptcy, or cancer, or depression, or felony, or failure. Through elation and deflation and every emotion in between, this truth remains; we know whose we are and we know where we are going, because the Son of God has promised. And this, my friends, is faith.  

Steven Molin, Elated....Deflated
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 A New Shalom 

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, his greeting was, "Peace be unto you." The Hebrew word shalom, for "peace," is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life and expressing an ideal state of life. The word suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. The word as a blessing is a prayer for the best that God can give to enable a person to complete one's life with happiness and a natural death. If the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a passing greeting, Jesus came to give it new meaning. At Bethlehem God announced that peace would come through the gift of God's unique Son. The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to order peace for the world.  

Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing
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Is your preaching EPIC?

GIVING BLOOD by Leonard Sweet - a must-have manual for preachers. Get your copy today!  
http://www.zondervan.com/giving-blood.html

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 The Greatest Scar Story 

I can think of no better modern-day illustration of the sacrifice Jesus made for us than a recent scar story I heard from a tennis friend of mine. As we were waiting for another match to finish, she was relating how badly her knees hurt. This friend is the most fit 30-something-year-old I know. Yet she sat beside me with a brace on each knee. I pointed to the open hole of her knee brace and asked if her scar was from knee surgery. She told me, "No, it's from my son, and I actually have an identical scar on my other knee." 

You see, several years ago she scooped up her toddler son from the swimming pool and began to walk towards a lounge chair. As she stepped onto the tiled patio, her foot slipped on the wet slick surface. She was also seven months pregnant, and it was one of those moments where you feel like you're moving in slow motion but there's nothing you can do to stop the fall. Within a split second, she knew her momentum was toppling her forward, and she could either face-plant and land on top of both her son and her unborn child, or she could fall on her knees.  

Of course, as any loving parent would do, she chose to fall on her knees directly onto the unforgiving concrete. Her knees immediately burst open and blood went everywhere. She ended up needing stitches, which resulted in scars, but her son and unborn child were both unscathed. It is hard for me to tell this story without tearing up, because to me, it serves as a miniscule example of the immense sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ for us. You see, we are the beloved children of God for whom Jesus took the fall. Christ suffered on the cross and endured unimaginable pain for us. His is the greatest scar story ever told.  

Christi O. Brown, Scars of Hope
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 Would You Still Like to be Rescued?

 Several years ago, The Saturday Evening Post ran a cartoon showing a man about to be rescued after he had spent a long time ship-wrecked on a tiny deserted island. The sailor in charge of the rescue team stepped onto the beach and handed the man a stack of newspapers. "Compliments of the Captain," the sailor said. "He would like you to glance at the headlines to see if you'd still like to be rescued!" Sometimes the headlines do scare us. Sometimes we feel that evil is winning. Then Easter comes to remind us that there is no grave deep enough, no seal imposing enough, no stone heavy enough, no evil strong enough to keep Christ in the grave.   

James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, p. 80
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 Honey...It's Me 

Perhaps you've heard the story of the Yugoslavian judge who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. No, I'm not cruel or weird, let me tell you the rest of the story. This guy's poor wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a preparation room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial.  

Well, and this is the part I love, in the middle of the night, the judge came to. The judge looked around at his surroundings and suddenly realized where he was. He got pretty excited and rushed over to alert the guard. But instead of being any help, the guard was terrified and promptly ran off.  

Fortunately, though, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge. The judge's first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her that he really wasn't dead. Unfortunately, he got no farther than, "Honey... it's me," when his wife screamed and fainted.  

So, he decided that the best course of action was to enlist some friends. He went to the houses of several friends; but because they all had heard the news from his distraught wife, they all doubted that he was really alive. They were all convinced he was a ghost. 

Finally, in a last desperate effort, he contacted a friend in another city who hadn't heard about his death. And that person was able to convince his family and friends that the judge really was alive.  

That story almost sounds like one of the Gospel writers could have written it, doesn't it? It sure sounds like the passage from John this morning.  

Traditional Story. We have not been able to verify the veracity of this story.
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 God's Back 

It was Saturday, the day before Easter, and Joanne Hinch of Woodland Hills, California was sitting at the kitchen table coloring eggs with her three-year-old son Dan and her two-year-old daughter Debbie. She told her kids about the meaning of Easter and taught them the traditional Easter morning greeting and response, "He is risen...He is risen indeed!" The children planned to surprise their Dad, a Presbyterian minister, with that greeting as soon as he awoke the next morning. Easter arrived, little Dan heard his father stirring about in his bedroom, so the boy got up quickly, dashed down the hall and shouted the good news: "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, God's back!"  

David E. Leininger, "Laugh, Thomas, Laugh!"
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 Ants in The Pants of Faith 

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.  

Frederick Buechner
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 End In Certainties

If a man will begin in certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. 

Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning (1605)1.v.8. (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 41.

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 Just Because We Can't See It 

A junior high school teacher was telling her class about evolution and how the way everything in the world was formed proved that God doesn't exist. She said, "Look out the window. You can't see God, can you?" The kids shook their heads. "Look around you in this room. You can't see God, can you?" The kids shook their heads. "Then our logical conclusion is that God doesn't exist, does He?" she asked at last, certain that she had won her audience over. 

But one girl from the back of the classroom said, "Miss Smith, just because we can't see it does not mean it does not exist...